Last week, I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota for a public hearing on the “Future of the Internet” sponsored by Free Press, Main Street Project, and the Center for Media Justice. Much already has been written about that event in the mainstream press, so I wanted to share with you the part of my day which has not been featured—my visits with Minnesota Public Radio and the South Minneapolis WorkForce Center. Both of these visits reinforced the ongoing work of the Commission to ensure that every American has access to affordable high-speed Internet service.
Minnesota Public Radio
Located in St. Paul, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) has been at the forefront of serving its community, through local and regional news and music over FM radio, for many years. Several things struck me as I was touring MPR’s impressive studios, soundstage, newsroom, and the Fitzgerald Theatre (home of The Prairie Home Companion). First, by hosting regular public discussions on the issues of the day in the beautiful UBS Forum, the public has the opportunity to be engaged on important matters through interactive dialogue. Citizens can tune in and listen, but they also can actively participate in these sessions. Second, independent voices have the opportunity to be heard and to find an audience—and by this I mean those voices that happen to be accompanied by musical instruments. MPR offers bands whose music would never be featured on most commercial stations a platform for exposure on The Current. Third, by offering local and regional news and actively expanding its news staff, MPR can better serve the public with the information it needs.
MPR is a great example of the synergy between traditional (broadcast) and new media (on the Internet). For most of its existence, MPR was limited in its reach by radio waves, but now anyone with Internet access can tune into MPR’s content, even if they live in areas far outside MPR’s coverage area. I can certainly understand why fans of The Current, and the other content it offers, would like to stay tuned into MPR no matter where they are in the world.
South Minneapolis WorkForce Center
At the South Minneapolis WorkForce Center, clients receive assistance for obtaining unemployment benefits, finding employment, and gaining new computer skills. Not surprisingly, many who walk through the door are in need of digital literacy. They don’t have computers at home, and many don’t know how to use the Internet. Of course, without the skills to use the Internet, it is difficult to apply for unemployment benefits (which you have to do online in Minnesota) or to look for a job. As such, the South Minneapolis WorkForce Center offers educational assistance. They host classes that teach basic computer and online skills, in addition to employment seeking skills. Clients can work on their resumes, obtain career counseling, and connect with businesses searching for potential employees. It is apparent that computers and the Internet are integral to the services offered at this sight—computers are in every room I toured, and clients said to me (more than once) that they need the Internet to improve their employment skills and find a job.
Whether you are searching for a job, taking an online class to improve your work skills, or tuning into MPR’s programming when you’re outside its broadcast area, you must have access to the Internet. Our work at the FCC to ensure that every American has such access continues.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Minneapolis and St. Paul last week. I want to thank my hosts at MPR and the South Minneapolis WorkForce Center for their generous time with me. Their commitment to their work and community is honorable and inspirational. My only regret is that I didn’t stay long enough to attend the Minnesota State Fair.